We must not shortchange children
West Virginia government is dysfunctional these days. We have an absentee governor and legislators who cannot write laws. Legislators will be paid extra tax dollars to correct errors in bills that the governor had to veto because they were technically incorrect when they were rushed through at the end of the regular session. The first few weeks of the May special session that was called to focus on education has been wasted because of hasty work done in the winter.
Making government work takes time talking in the same room with people who do not agree at the outset. During this special session Democrats and Republicans have to talk to each other about what is best for school children. In order to determine what is best for kids, legislators need to listen to parents and teachers.
However, after several education forums that have taken place around the state this spring, the legislators do not seem to have come closer to agreeing on what parents and teachers are saying.
Democratic Sen. Stephen Baldwin says the first topic that should be addressed is the root of the social problems that follow children to school. Democrats will focus on adding one mental health professional for every school. Democrats will also support programs like “Drug Free Moms and Babies,” but the Omnibus Education Bill introduced in the winter did not include awareness of the ways the Opioid Crisis has impacted children and their learning.
Republicans led by Senate President Mitch Carmichael are as sure as ever that the Omnibus Bill had all the right ideas that were being pushed through the legislator in the winter. It would increase teacher pay, limit the power of teachers unions, add public charter schools, give parents vouchers and/or education savings accounts, and return control to local counties systems.
Lawmakers claimed that they had reached consensus with all the education officials without contacting the president of the WV State Board of Education, the president of the WV Education Association, or the president of the West Virginia arm of the American Federation of Teachers.
Students in West Virginia would be better served if the legislature would abandon the Omnibus Bill concept and look at each issue on its own merits. The Legislators should consider all the legal and financial constraints will impact the implementation of each new piece of legislation. The best place to start is with teacher pay and professional development.
If we are going to have more school choice, we need to be sure that it is regulated to guarantee that all students have an education that meets reasonable state standards.